Monday, October 23, 2017

Advice from a burglar

I posted once before about the book that introduced me to a favorite fictional character:
During summer visits to grandparents in West Virginia, we often stayed with an uncle and aunt. The aunt, Aunt Mabel, was a reader and had a lot of books. I would entertain myself by finding one or more among them to read, and, at least once, not having finished the book before we left, I begged her to let me have it, and she did. I must have been very annoying. The book I extorted in this manner—and still possess—is Without Lawful Authority [1943] by Manning Coles (the pen name of English collaborators Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and Cyril Coles). It was a fine introduction to a series of books featuring Tommy Hambledon, British espionage agent. The first was Drink to Yesterday [1940], set during World War I, but all of the others take place during World War II or the Cold War. I have accumulated several more (by purchase) and have enjoyed re-reading them as light entertainment.  ....
My favorite of the Manning Coles remains the first I read, the one I badgered my aunt into giving me, Without Lawful Authority. In Chapter Two, Marden, a burglar who was apprehended in Warnford's apartment, offers advice to said Warnford, who has decided he would like to possess a burglar's skills:
Warnford nodded eagerly, and Marden began to stroll up and down the room, talking as he went.

"You sprang to your feet when Ashling came in; you would probably have done better to sit perfectly still if you're fairly sure you haven't been heard. People who wander about houses in the middle of the night are probably looking for the bathroom, not the study or wherever the safe is kept. Or they might want a book or a drink of water. It's incredible how little people see if there's no movement at all. You want to keep perfectly still, hardly breathing at all, and think about something innocent and far away. Such as a frog hopping slowly round the edge of a pond or a cow lying in long grass, thoughtfully chewing the cud with its eyes half shut."

"For heaven's sake, why?"

"Because there is such a thing as telepathy. If you think intently about the person who comes, ninety-nine out of every hundred will feel it and know there's somebody there."

"I see."

"Continuing my general instructions," said Marden spaciously, "here is a tip if you're talking on the telephone. If the bird of either sex at the other end says he or she is alone and you wonder whether it's true, make some excuse to leave the phone for a moment. Put the receiver down on the table and instantly pick it up again and listen. Most people who have someone in the room with them will make some remark at that point when they think they are not overheard. After a moment, whatever the result, touch the table with the receiver again and go on talking."

"Continue, Machiavelli," said Warnford.

"What else? There are hundreds of tips, all useful. Tread on the front edges of stairs to avoid creaks; the riser will take your weight. Oh, if you're walking across a room in which someone is sleeping, take a step when they breathe out and wait while they breathe in."

"Even if they snore?"

"Even so. I'm told it's something to do with the pressure on the inside of the eardrums, but that may be all baloney; I'm not a doctor. Beware of the snorer; they sometimes wake themselves up with an extra-loud snort and, having their mouths open as a rule, they hear extra well in the ensuing hush."

"Especially as they're usually convinced somebody else has made the noise."

"Exactly. You know how to prevent a sneeze from fruiting, don't you? Press your finger firmly on your upper lip close below your nose; it's infallible."

"I had heard that one," admitted Warnford.

"It's fairly well known. If you're doing a bolt and you dash out of a gate or drop from a garden wall practically into the arms of a policeman, don't run away from him. Run towards him, avoiding, of course, the outstretched arm. He will then lose time turning round to pursue you instead of getting straight off the mark, and you will be several yards to the good."

"When I am standing on the extreme edge of a stair," said Warnford, "thinking of cowslips and pressing my finger on my lip so as not to awaken the snoring policeman on the top step, I'll remember your words."
Rue Morgue's reprint of Without Lawful Authority: A Tommy Hambledon Novel can be ordered from Amazon.

Rue Morgue Press - Manning Coles: Without Lawful Authority